Health fair targetsIt might have been a college dorm: Women were eating and laughing, getting their faces made up and talking to people about their weight and other health problems.
Volunteers teach female prisoners
about breast cancer and
other health matters
By Helen Altonn
But these women live behind fences and wear uniforms. They are offenders at the Women's Community Correctional Center in Kailua.
Since they are confined and this is Women's Health Month, about nine health organizations went to them for a health fair organized by the center's recreational specialist, Larson Medina.
"Next year I hope to have a whole courtyard full of tents," he said.
"This is a real treat," said Bootsie Kauwe, prison nurse manager. "It's the third one and it's just fun, a real asset to the program, and women feel like they're being noticed."
Some of the women even gained a better self-image.
Inmate Christie Aliifua, 39, had makeup applied to her face for the first time in her life.
"I'm natural. I don't know how to do this makeup stuff," Aliifua said. "But everyone is telling me I'm pretty. I think I'll change."
Women in Need, which teaches basic life skills and domestic violence issues at the facility, did the makeup and talked to the women about skin care.
"They love it," said Mary Scott Lau, executive director.
Byrde Cestare, executive director of the American Cancer Society's Windward unit, and volunteer Glory Ramos distributed brochures and talked to the women about the importance of monthly self-exams for breast cancer and mammograms for those over age 40.
Inmates Marlene Anduha and Georgette Jaea stopped at a Waimanalo Community Health Center table to look at models of a breast with progressive cancer.
"Look at this -- it's already in the lymph nodes," said Louana Kassebeer, head of Waimanalo center's breast cancer and cervix control program, emphasizing early detection.
Anduha, 46, said she's high risk for breast cancer because of her family history but "it's hard to go out" for a mammogram. She stopped self-exams when she entered prison a year ago, she said, explaining, "There's no privacy in here."
Kauwe said mammograms are scheduled outside the facility for those over 40, or earlier if there is a family history of cancer.
Anyone who is chronically ill is checked every three months, she said, explaining pulmonary problems are common among the women, "I think from smoking and drugs. Quite a few are asthmatic or have bronchitis."
The prison has nonsmoking areas and the women are discouraged from smoking but smoke breaks are allowed.
At a Hawaii Lupus Foundation table, Lisa Dasher and Nalani Punahele answered questions about the chronic inflammatory disease.
An inmate from the neighbor islands told them she was diagnosed two years ago with discoid lupus, which causes skin rashes and scarring. Dasher said information will be mailed to her to request a referral to a dermatologist.
Weight is one of the biggest problems among the 265 inmates.
Wendy Tyau and fellow inmate Kahea Bernard go to Medina's tae-bo and weightlifting classes and said they would like to have a low-fat diet.
"But you gotta wait for a memo," Tyau said. "Everything you've got to have a memo for."
Sandy Menza, 53, was aghast at results of a body fat analyzer, which prison dietitian Doris Robinson had at a table with nutrition information.
The five-foot seven-inch tall inmate, who weighs 242 pounds, learned her body weight is 17.8 percent over what it should be.
"I try not to eat all the food they give us in here," said Menza, a "grandma" with eight children and 17 grandchildren, serving time for welfare fraud.
"I have medical problems," she said. "I needed food and medical supplies.
"God put me in here for a reason," she added. "I was 305 (pounds) when I came in."
Robinson said the women's prison has a weight-control program. "It's lack of activity, that's the problem."
Medina said the inmates eat heavily because of boredom: "Time gets to be tedious if they don't have a job or go to school." Meals also are social events, he said. "They get food and talk story."
Food was one of the highlights at the Health Fair, with women loading plates and gathering in groups to talk.
"That's how they eat. They fill up," Medina said, noting health food and snacks were being featured. "And today we're telling them to grab milk."
Chuck Braden, Prevent Child Abuse Hawaii executive director, was a new fair participant, providing parenting information for the many inmates who have children and grandchildren.
Medina said he has expanded Kids Days at the prison to seven a year for family get-togethers.
In 14 years at the prison, he said he has seen the same women "go back and forth, back and forth (in and out of prison). Now their daughters are coming in ... It's not a good sign."